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Content Marketing and SEO in Competitive Fields

I am not sure how other SEO consultants find it, but often, when talking to small companies about SEO, the idea of content marketing as an element of SEO is something that it’s hard to put across and even harder to sell. Many people that I talk to still want to view SEO as a simple service with guaranteed results and phrases like ‘seo is a long term investment’ tend to fall on deaf ears or are quickly followed up with ‘but how much for the links?’.

I want that

To cut some slack here, it’s less the small business owner at fault who just wants to compete, and more Google’s failure to contain the widespread manipulation of search results in many commercial areas. If you pick a topic, lets say, memory foam mattresses as that’s something I have been looking at, the sites ranking in the top slots are all heavily SEO’d (and not in a good way).

Ranking Metrics

As an SEO, we have tools like opensiteexplorer.org that we can use to get an idea of the metrics that are being used for a site to rank. Metrics don’t give us the total picture, and can even be misleading, but as part of a larger analysis they do give us some intelligence when we are looking at what David will need to do to topple Goliath.

So, if we have a look at one of the sites in the industry I was looking at today and consider my client is a new player, starting from ground zero:

Links:
500+ linking root domains (sites)
10,000+ total links

Social Metrics:
10 facebook shares
1 facebook like
0 tweets
4 Google +1’s

Anchor Text for biggest keyword:
3000+ links from 150+ sites

Anchor Text for the brand / site address:
5 links for 3 variations

Okay, lots of links from a good number of sites so this must be a big, trusted, established player, but, hold up, no social metrics to speak of at all? How can a site be this good, get 10,000 links and yet no one is talking about it anywhere? Google? Hello? Is this likely?

And those anchor texts, 3000 links for the main keyword? Wow, that’s great, but surely we would have a similar number or more for the business or site name or even hundreds with the standard ‘click here’ type links, but, we actually have 5, that’s right, not a typo, 5 links. These include two variations of the domain name at 1 link each, three instances of the business name and not a single ‘click here’ type link. Google? Hello again? Knock, Knock! Is this a natural looking link profile?

So, where are all these links from? Well, there are the obvious article marketing sites and directories but then there is a whole, torrid network of blogs with articles that read like the author was on day 9 of an LSD and Ether binge with Hunter S. Thompson.

here is one example:

“Calming skin tones are thought to be the best shades, as they mimic the flesh tones that are present as we sleep”

I am not really sure what ‘calming flesh tones are present when I sleep’ and yet the article that  features that gibberish is featured on around 15 sites linking back to the site in question.  Seemingly cranking these out is part of the ‘SEO Strategy’ employed by the company themselves or even better, by their SEO Agency to get  them to #1 for a wildly competitive term.

How do you compete with this?

Well, you have a few options. You can review this approach and cherry pick the best of it from several of your competitors, go out, buy links from the same sites, litter the internet with more crappy content and kind of hope that it works. At least for long enough for you to make your money back before Google gets a handle on what you are doing and b1tch slaps you back into position 333333 recurring.

A better approach however would be to look at what you can do to get real links from quality sites and use high quality content to make sure that these are the links your ranking is built on and are backed up by real social metrics. Similar in structure to the crappy way of doing it but instead of putting hundreds of weak articles on thousands of second rate sites you add solid content to your own site, each day ideally, and reach out to other relevant blogs and look to publish content there. You can look at other link building as well: directories, one or two quality articles just to rack up another domain and a whole host of industry specific opportunities but be rigid about the quality of what you are doing externally and know that each link will count!

Do something that people will talk about

If you are building content of value on and off your site and networking with other bloggers, those shares, likes and even links will eventually start to tumble in. Even better, do something that people will talk about – a product comparison – a survey – an experiment – the exact approach depends on the industry and site but if you can build something valuable and promote it then other bloggers will talk about it and the links will build themselves.

Google, Pandas and SEO Penalties

Panda has been and gone and whilst it has cleaved away tons of awful results making searchland a better place it has not really had as large an effect on people who are playing the high risk, junk link building game.

Next up is the over optimisation penalty – this promises to level the playing field and punish sites who have been doing too much SEO (or too much of the wrong kind of SEO). I imagine this will come in waves, much like Panda and will be refined over the coming 12 months slowly wiping out more and more of these types of #winners.

Details are thin on the ground at the moment but Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam Team has the stated goal is to improve the ranking of people who are ‘making great content and a great site whilst removing any unnatural inflation of search results for people who are building too many links or creating spammy, keyword heavy content.

Zero Risk Policy

As a gigging SEO, the last thing I want to do is pick up a client, see how the land lies and know that they want me to do the same kind of garbage SEO work to emulate the success of their competitor. I will protest, and in many instances, win out, or alternatively not take the work if they are insistent on an approach that I don’t believe in.

Where the foundation of your SEO is quality content then any gains you make will be there to stay and not subject to a new alorithm that will impact rankings. There is no threat of a ‘lets punish high quality content’ policy coming so building high quality content should be the base of your SEO strategy.

Getting Results with Content

There are so many ways that you can use content to target your prospective buyers. By answering questions, you position yourself in an area where your credibility can be built, your brand exposure goes up and your SEO team have something to work with.

Promoting content on other sites gets you links and exposure to that blog or sites audience. Building high quality, useful content on your own site gets you links, shares and happy site visitors. Happy visitors stay on your site for longer and push more qualitative data about your site back to Google’s big brain in the sky to help determine the value of your site and decide where you should be in the result stack.

Aim Long and True

This shift to a content marketing perspective and a content marketing SEO perspective is not an overnight one. It may take you time and you may need to work with an SEO and writer to decide what can be put together and who will do it but rest assured, if you can work this way and make this the foundation of your approach you will not fall victim to huge losses of traffic when spammy SEO technique #459 is kicked to the curb!

Remember, Google wants good content for it’s organic results to keep selling adspace – be that good content and you are not swimming upstream!

</Rant Over>

Bit of a rant today, the search results still have the capacity to make me pull my hair out but it’s worth quickly pointing out that whilst the crappy techniques still work (today at least) the proper techniques work better so the effort/reward ratio is better and stacked for those that do it right and certainly more stable over the long haul. Likewise, if your industry is stuffed with people doing this type of SEO and no one is doing it properly, then, that is a HUGE OPPORTUNITY to get in there and start doing things right.

Who knows what this over optimisation penalty will bring, many businesses that use search as their only marketing channel will see their traffic and businesses fall away and the search landscape could be wide open for those that are doing it right!

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions about SEO, Content Marketing or the upcoming over optimisation penalty then drop a comment below or hit me up on Twitter. If you are in a competitive field and want some help putting a content driven SEO strategy together then get in touch! If you know anyone who could benefit from this article or you just want to be kind and help me out with my social metrics then please share this article below. ;o)

P.S. Check back tomorrow for some examples of sites doing content marketing in style!

Marcus Miller

I am an SEO Consultant based in Birmingham UK and with clients all over the world. I have been working in and around search for 15 years and currently focus on SEO Consulting, Website Consulting, Local SEO and Technical SEO Audits.

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